What I managed to put away in a day-and-a-half in Paris and some thoughts on the “crise;” or, “…the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure.”

1 Nov

…not all in one sitting of course.

A ‘tarte tatin’ au boudin — a take on the traditional tatin upside-down fruit torte, with the boudin (spiced and coagulated pig’s blood) over the flakiest, probably lard-based, crisp puff pastry underneath, and a thin layer of apple and some of the most expertly caramelized onions — almost honeyed, that’s what’s seen dripping almost like syrup under the boudin — in between:

tarte tatin au boudin

(click)

A pig’s foot, braised, then breaded and fried, for the first time served with a bearnaise sauce (essentially tarragon-flavored egg yolks and butter), which was almost a bit too much even for me:

Pied de cochon pané

(click)

And andouillette, large pig intestine (colon) stuffed with small pig intestine and grilled, kind of like a chit’lin-loaf or mageiritsa sausage, usually served with a mustard sauce or mustard of some kind because it needs something to balance the heady fecal aroma (like the dill in mageiritsa) and really bring out its subtlety:

andouilletebalzar

(click)

And now everyone who keeps telling me that people only ate this stuff because they were so poor they had no choice must cease and desist in this absurd and ignorant argument. (See last year’s post: Chitterlings…and mageiritsa: “Then I have to listen to the anthropology tes poutsas about how people only used to eat that stuff because they were poor and they had to eat everything available, like eating intestines were the equivalent of the dirt-eating that tragically occurs in third world countries under famine conditions.”)  No.  They eat this shit ’cause it’s good.  Proof were the happy groups of Parisians all around me — even young, skinny ones — digging into the same stuff I was, who apparently hadn’t gotten the “evolution” memo from Brussels yet that now that they live in one of history’s most prosperous societies they can stop eating pig guts.

And speaking of prosperity…  Everyone I know in Paris talks incessantly of the “crise” but eventually ends up admitting things are ok for the most part, which makes me wonder that the French crisis is not an outsiders’ invention, or just a fruit of the fact that the French like to think about things and talk about them — imagine….  Ever since Adam Gopnik heroically defended French civilization (“the most beautiful daily culture ever created…lemons on trays and windows like doors everywhere you looked…”) in his Paris to the Moon, ever since the eighties Thatcher/Reagan years actually, there has been a constant schadenfreud-ish gloat-fest in what the French love to call the “Anglo-Saxon” world about how France is over: politically irrelevant, its cultural traditions either fading or ossifying, and how its economic model is simply unsustainable.  This “end of France” commentary in the English-speaking press has practically become a genre of its own; Maureen Dowd gave a classic example of this type of screed in the Times this summer, “Goodbye Old World, Bonjour Tristesse” about how depressed the French now are that France has seemingly lost in place in the world (great photo though):

07DOWD-articleLarge

Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos (Paris, 1989)

and then just these past few months, Steven Erlanger produced these two models of the genre “A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline” and “Reflections on a Paris Left Behind”, sad reflections on how… boring and sterile Paris has become, and repeating the tiringly repeated observation on how London has taken its place; London a city I still find to be trying a little too hard to make up for centuries of un-coolness, vis-a-vis Paris mostly.

Yet, they’re doing something right.  The London Review of Books had a fascinating and comprehensive review of the European Union crisis in its August 29th issue by Susan Watkins: “Vanity and Venality” where she comments on France’s seeming disappearance from the European political landscape (which it seems to be trying to make-up for by flexing military muscle elsewhere) but how it seems to be functioning fairly well internally:

“There is something anomalous about the neutralisation of France as an actor on the European stage and the brittle character of German hegemony must stem in part from it. The conventional explanation is that the French economy is too weighed down by its statist legacies for the Elysée’s word to carry much authority, but the figures don’t bear this out. France has now overtaken the UK, after a swifter recovery from the crisis .  [Could that be because it didn’t opt for Nasredin’s Donkey austerity economics as much as Britain did?]  Its public debt, including bank rescues, is lower than Britain’s and its manufacturing sector is in better shape. Unemployment is worse, but average household income is higher, inequality lower and infrastructure and healthcare in another league.”

(Also read the Watkins article for some dismal analyses of a Greek economy that has shrunk by twenty-percent and the scandalous closing of ERT, Greek Radio Television by PM Samaras)

So France and the French, it seems, keep soldiering on, and well and socially securely at that.  And it seems that some Protestant sourpuss will always be incensed that they seem to be doing it so pleasurably on top of it all, adapting to the new state of things and still enjoying themselves.  Let them bitch and judge.  I know the small part of Paris I see when I’m there is only an equally small part of French society, but if for some reason I were banished from New York tomorrow, it’d still be my first choice to seek refuge in.

PalaisRoyal

One of those single, condensing phrases that teach you so much about a thing, in this case me about the French: the writer Michèle Fitoussi hits the nail on the head when she said that her compatriots “have a keen sense of the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure.”

Comments: nikobakos@gmail.com

Also see the full post: Chitterlings…and mageiritsa for my general food musings, campaigns, philosophies and tirades

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